WAUKESHA, Wis. -- Don Hilbig was sitting on a hay bale not far from the stage in this grassy Milwaukee suburb where, on Sunday evening, Wisconsin congressman Paul D. Ryan was to return as Mitt Romney’s newly-minted Republican running mate. Hilbig wore a Green Bay Packers baseball cap and a green “Paul Ryan for Congress” T-shirt.
The faded shirt was more than a decade old. Hilbig, a retired psychotherapist from Beloit, said he got it while working on Ryan’s first congressional campaign.
“He’s my guy,” Hilbig said. “He’s an all-American young man. He’s an Eagle Scout.”
“Let’s be honest,” his friend Russell Rucker added. “I’m in love with Ryan.”
The pair said they were thrilled when Romney announced Ryan as his running mate, because aspects of the former Massachusetts governor’s record had given them pause. “We’d just like him to be a tad more conservative,” Hilbig said.
But they said Romney’s pick of Ryan assuaged those concerns. Together, Hilbig said, the two were a perfect ticket.
“They’re an incredible duo,” he said.
Chris Sekula, 39, called Romney and Ryan “the team to change America.”
“They’re going to undo everything that Obama knotted,” he said.
Like a lot of people at the Waukesha rally, Sekula, an auto painter, said the recent battle between public employee unions and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker had divided the state along sharp ideological lines. On the road outside the rally, where the line to get in was backed up for more than a mile, many cars sported bumper stickers that said: “I support Scott Walker.”
“It completely exposed the divide between Republicans and Democrats, between people who take care of themselves and work hard and people who want to let the government take care of them,” Sekula said. He said the same divide existed at the national level.
His girlfriend, Jennie Andrus, 39, said she thought Ryan’s middle-America roots would help counter the impression pushed by Democrats that Romney is an out-of-touch millionaire. “Ryan has been just like everyone here walking around, working to put himself through school,” she said. “He understands the people who are here.”
Andrus, a legal secretary, said she didn’t agree with Ryan’s ideas on some social issues like abortion - she doesn’t think the government should regulate that. But she said his proposal for the federal budget showed he had a plan for the economy. “And I think this election is 100% economics,” she said.
Sherry Toye, 61, said the same thing. “I think the economy is the most important issue, and the most important thing is to reduce the deficit,” said Toye, a retiree who splits her time between Florida and Sheboygan Falls. “His plan will do that. He speaks the truth.”
Toye, a tea party Republican who supported Newt Gingrich in the Republican primary, said she would register to vote in Wisconsin because she thought with Ryan on his ticket, Romney now had a shot at turning the state red.
Rep. Sean Duffy, who warmed up the crowd, said he couldn’t wait for the vice presidential debates, in which Vice President Joe Biden will square off with Ryan over the economy.
“It’s like the Minnesota Vikings lecturing the Green Bay Packers on how to win a Super Bowl!” Duffy said.